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Language barriers and qualitative nursing research: methodological considerations


  • A. Squires rn, phd

    1. Post-doctoral Fellow, Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Philadelphia, PA, USA
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Allison Squires, Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, 338R, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, 418 Curie Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; Tel: 215-898-6485; Fax: 215-573-2062; E-mail:


Aim:  This review of the literature synthesizes methodological recommendations for the use of translators and interpreters in cross-language qualitative research.

Background:  Cross-language qualitative research involves the use of interpreters and translators to mediate a language barrier between researchers and participants. Qualitative nurse researchers successfully address language barriers between themselves and their participants when they systematically plan for how they will use interpreters and translators throughout the research process. Experienced qualitative researchers recognize that translators can generate qualitative data through translation processes and by participating in data analysis. Failure to address language barriers and the methodological challenges they present threatens the credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability of cross-language qualitative nursing research. Through a synthesis of the cross-language qualitative methods literature, this article reviews the basics of language competence, translator and interpreter qualifications, and roles for each kind of qualitative research approach. Methodological and ethical considerations are also provided.

Conclusion:  By systematically addressing the methodological challenges cross-language research presents, nurse researchers can produce better evidence for nursing practice and policy making when working across different language groups. Findings from qualitative studies will also accurately represent the experiences of the participants without concern that the meaning was lost in translation.

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